Left: The flowers of Crocosmia "Lucifer" are a good example of what hummingbirds look for in a plant. The blooms are bright orange-red and tube shaped. There's no place for the hummer to land, but that's ok because hummers can hover. Although the plant is not native, it's been around a long time and has demonstrated that it produces enough nectar to satisfy hummingbirds. (Behind the Crocosmia is a purple-stemmed ornamental kale. They make a pretty combination.)
SO FAR I'VE BEEN TALKING A LOT ABOUT BUTTERFLIES. But flowers to attract butterflies can easily be mixed with flowers to attract hummingbirds, which are also attracted to nectar-producing plants.
Like butterflies, hummers are more likely to visit native plants or old-fashioned "cottage style"plants. But the similarities taper off after that, as flowers that are attractive to hummingbirds are often quite different in appearance from those that are attractive to butterflies. (This is an asset when you're planning a nectar garden, as it allows you to include a greater variety of flowering plants.)
- Whereas it's hard to predict what colors will attract butterflies, hummingbirds apparently are at least slightly more attracted to red and orange than to other colors. However, this does not mean that hummingbirds will not be attracted to other flower colors.
- Whereas butterflies need to land in order to take nectar from flowers, hummingbirds are able to hover over a flower they are feeding from. As a result, whereas plants that attract butterflies often offer some sort of sturdy landing platform, hummingbird flowers do not. Also, typical hummingbird plants conceal their nectar deep inside the flower, where insects can't get it but hummingbirds (with their long tongues) can. As a result, the typical hummingbird plant will have funnel-shaped or tubular flowers. (But again, this doesn't mean hummingbirds won't visit other types of plants.)
- Hummers may also prefer taller plants (those, say, at least 2 feet tall). My friend Brett ("Greenman") Johnson, plantsman extraordinaire, posits that the little birds feel safer taking nectar from taller plants, including vines and shrubs.